Sunday, October 19, 2014

Providence croissant tasting

As a part of les croissants project, I decided to do a tasting of croissants from some local Providence purveyors.  I trekked around the city on a beautiful autumn morning recently and picked up croissants from Olga's, Starbucks, Au Bon Pain and Seven Stars to face off with those I made from La Pâtisserie des Rêves, as well as my own from The French Tarte.

I know I've included only a fraction of the croissants one can find in this city, but those which I highlight here are within walking distance of my home.  And I love walking!!

the players
What does one look for in a croissant, you might ask?

For me it's the nicely browned appearance, that just right heft when you pick it up, the exterior crispiness and fragility which causes golden shards to shower down as you bite into it and the buttery, airy yet bodied layered interior.

Let's take them one by one.

First up, Olga's:



Just looking at this one makes me feel heavy; cutting yielded minimal crumb without any flaky shards; the interior is heavy and bready without any airiness; the texture is doughy, like an average roll, with a dull, non-buttery flavor and unappealing mouth feel.  

Next, Au Bon Pain, Westminster St. (financial district).

When I asked the staff where their croissants were made, they reported "we bake them here".  They receive them frozen and ready for the oven.



The look is appealing; cutting yielded some crisp flaking of the exterior; the interior has nice airy laminations and it feels light in the hand; the taste isn't bad but is lacking in rich, buttery goodness or that freshly made mouth feel. 

OK, so next up was Seven Stars on Broadway:



The look is very appealing; cutting demonstrated some nice exterior fragility and airy interior, but the feel is too light; the texture is rather nondescript and the taste is bland without that buttery goodness or impressive mouth feel. 

The French Tarte:



The look is so-so in the pristine croissant sense, but it'll do; cutting yielded a beautifully fragile exterior and a nicely laminated interior; it has a nice heft in the hand; the texture is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside; the taste is delicious with a rich, buttery goodness without being too heavy in the mouth. 

My version of La Pâtisserie des Rêves 



This one looks like a sad excuse for a croissant - lumpy and rough; cutting demonstrated some exterior fragility, but the interior is dense, bready and without any laminated airiness;  it feels heavy in the hand; the texture is doughy and unpleasant, and the taste is heavy and greasy.  Too bad!

Finally, Starbucks (La Boulange) at the Providence Biltmore.  When I inquired as to where the croissants were made, the staff didn't know the answer but shared that they receive them baked and flash frozen, and they thaw them on site.



The look is so-so, a bit flat; cutting yielded minimal exterior fragility, but a nice looking airy, laminated interior; the heft in the hand is on the heavy side; the texture is not crisp, a bit bready, and the taste is bland without any buttery goodness or flavor.

Costs for all the local croissants range from $2.00 to $2.75.

There is a lot that goes into making a great croissant.  Certainly large scale production is an entirely different animal than small-batch hand crafted croissants. And as is demonstrated with Philippe's recipe (see my les croissants post), even that doesn't necessarily yield a delicious product!

It takes just the right ingredient proportions, a feel for handling the dough and, as always, practice, practice, practice!




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